Osmo Nutrition

Last week I attended a mini media camp. It was three days of riding Cervelo bikes and Easton wheels in Sonoma County. All my work should be this hard. As it happened, the get together also included an introduction to a new nutrition company, Osmo Nutrition. For those of you who tuned into Lance Armstrong’s un-retirement, you may have caught a story about Tex swallowing itty-bitty telemetric thermometers so they could track his core temperature as he exercised. Well the Ph.D. who tracked that data—Stacy Sims—has come up with a whole new plan for hydration, the results of which are Osmo.

Osmo is a four-drink system. First is PreLoad Hydration. You drink that the night before a big day and the morning of a big day. Big day being any ride with heat and intensity when you don’t want to suck. Second is Active Hydration. You drink that during exercise; it is not a carb delivery system. Osmo works with the adage:  Food in the pocket, hydration in the bottle. Third is Acute Recovery. You drink it in the half-hour window immediately following exercise to stop the catabolic effects of exercise and begin the repair and adaptation response. Fourth is GoodNight Recovery. You drink it before bed to aid recovery and sleep during hard training blocks and/or stage races.

Just getting from our lodge to the road was something of an adventure.

My understanding is that Active Hydration and Acute Recovery are meant to be used any time you ride. PreLoad Hydration and GoodNight Recovery are when you need the big guns; even for racers you may only need them a couple of times in a month.

Some years back, at another publication, I was assigned the role of guinea pig. Every new nutrition device that came down the pike entered my system. Some of the results were not pretty. Some of them caused me to dispense methane with the frequency a foghorn sounds on the Northern California coast. But here’s the thing: Some of you may remember a before/during/after system of nutrition products with both drinks and bars called SmartFUEL. They went out of business and a few years went by without its help. Five years later I looked back and realized that SmartFUEL made a notable difference in my performance. I was unpleasant to be around while I was on that stuff. but during the years I raced on it, I was the fittest I ever was.

Which is to say, it was pretty good, but with that much methane off-gassing, something was still amiss.

Osmo has a series of videos on their web site and I’ve got to say that Sims not only makes a compelling case for why their products will work for you and me, there are even little nuggets of nutritional wisdom that have affected how I look at my own exercise nutrition. Getting me to re-think how I take care of myself is no small feat. Hell, even getting me to examine my nutritional needs is impressive. Most pitches I’m suggested to can simply be boiled down to: Use this instead!

Without months of use and diligent tracking of changes in fitness it can really be difficult to report—as a reviewer—that one nutrition product is superior to another. Actually, any claim to that effect ought to be regarded with great suspicion. I know a two, maybe three journalists in the industry who have a great enough command of their fitness that they could claim to have done the work necessary to be objectively convinced one product is superior to another. I’m not among them.

So I went into this thinking, “Cool, I’ll try these new drink mixes and I won’t have to use any of the expensive stuff I brought.”

That wasn’t the outcome I experienced.

Stacy Sims, in a series of videos on the Osmo website makes the case for Osmo’s products not by making broad claims of “science shows … blah, blah, blah.” She refers repeatedly to studies that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals, which for those who slept through the Intelligent Design wars are where that pseudo science fails to make any headway.

Okay, now a little back story. Between November and March I got hammered with a series of colds. Six, in fact; every one of which lasted longer than a week. It wiped out anything akin to an aerobic engine within me. I made some mention of it in other posts and did some bitching in social media. So I’ve been riding nothing but base miles since April. I went into these three days of riding knowing that I needed to conserve whenever possible and let go anyone who was feeling frisky. Day one was 31 miles and 2500 feet of climbing. Day two was 46 miles and 4300 feet of climbing—the famous Geysers loop. Day three is what convinced me that Osmo is to my system was 91 octane gas is to my car.

Day three is a day that should have gotten sideways almost from the start. Those first two days were just hard enough that I should have been in the hole on waking on day three. Back when I was racing, I could do a hard Saturday and Sunday followed by our local holiday ride on Memorial or Labor Day and still have something in the tank for those. For a good five years now, if I go hard both Saturday and Sunday, I’ve got nothing at all for Monday. I just haven’t been able to rally.

So when I woke on day three and my legs weren’t just okay, but good, I was impressed. The ride we did began in Occidental and took in a portion of stage one of the Tour of California, including the Fort Ross and Coleman Valley climbs. As I dropped into the descent back to Occidental I was overtaken by the United Healthcare cycling team and was rather pleased that they didn’t dump me on the descent, but I digress. We rolled back into Occidental, dropped off a couple of riders and then pushed on for Geyserville and the climb up Sweetwater Springs.

I heard some rather surprised calls between the United Healthcare riders while on the descent. I don’t think they expected anything that technical.

Sweetwater Springs is a climb known to locals and almost no one else. Which may or may not be good. It’s about 2.5 miles and pitches at times approach 20 percent. Trust, me, the sections that are 11 percent feel like a pretty normal climb. I was in a 39×25 and suffered like the whole of a chain gang. But that wasn’t our last obstacle. The driveway up to our lodgings was a bit more than a half mile and while the whole thing was difficult, it’s the section at 28 percent that reduced me to a cadence of 12.

I should note that we had a support vehicle supporting us and I drank six bottles during the course of the 6.5-hour ride. We returned back with 89 miles and 7500 feet of climbing. At the end of the ride I was tired, but not shattered. And the next morning, under ordinary circumstances, I should have risen only with great effort, but instead I felt okay. Tired, but good enough to head out for a recovery ride.

PCH north of Bodega Bay was chilly and very overcast.

I’m convinced the stuff made a difference in my riding. And not just a bit of a difference, but a truly notable difference.

Now, this stuff doesn’t come cheap. Osmo products come in resealable bags. PreLoad and Active go for $24.99 (ten and twenty servings respectively) while Acute and GoodNight go for $39.99 (ten and eight servings respectively). Active and Acute are the two products you are likely to use most often and are arguably the best overall value of the bunch. The taste in all of them is light and they offer a couple of flavors in most cases. Mixing Acute with milk or almond milk makes for a very refreshing post-ride drink. PreLoad is the one, due to the amount of sodium in it that is the least exciting to drink, but it’s still not as stomach turning as, say, wheatgrass.

Yep, 28 percent and not wide enough to paper boy on.

Whether you believe me or not, you might drop by the Osmo site and give them a few minutes. They produced a set of videos about their products in which Sims explains the science behind each of the drinks. They are entertaining to watch and surprising enough in their content that you may learn a thing or two. Check them out here.



  1. SWells

    Hey, I remember SmartFUEL. Used their stuff back in the late ’90s. They were cool enough to sponsor a Cat III “Leaders Jersey” of sorts in New England, which I thought was cool…but never came close to wearing. I wondered what happened to them.

    1. Author

      The story behind is SmartFUEL and what happened is long and I only know a fraction of it. Their Canadian owners, Bariatrix, sold the company because it had been running at a loss ever since its launch. Not only were they giving out tons of product as primes at New England races and sponsoring all sorts of jerseys (including that one for the 3s), the stuff was selling (a company representative told me) at below cost. After they were sold to some American investors, prices were jacked up to return an attractive profit and that meant everyone was paying something like double what the old prices were. And they also ended free shipping for large orders. In a move that completely caught the new owners by surprise, sales tanked. They didn’t budge on prices and by the time I really missed their products and went looking for them, they were gone.

  2. Rico

    Looks like you got a classic varied taste of our local roads. Super sunny and nice, then freezing and wet all within 10 miles. And a nit, when you say “and then pushed on for Geyserville and the climb up Sweetwater Springs”, I think you meant Guerneville.

    1. Author

      Rico: Yes, it was a varied day. Cool, then sunny and warm, then foggy and cold and then hot and sunny. But no, I did mean Geyserville; that’s where our ride ultimately ended. It was just mostly flat after Sweetwater Springs.

  3. WV Cycling

    I sometimes wonder how much of the benefits from many drink options is the increase of hydration due to adhering to the suggestions/rules of the product, as compared to the benefits of hydration + product.

    I’m trying out 1.) Allen Lim’s stuff, and I’ve done the 2.) maltodextrin in the bottles, 3.) watered down juice, 4.) watered down gatorade, and a 5,6,7.) couple of other things in a semi-empirical manner with the observation of a physician who is also a cyclist.

    Electrolytes = Important. Hydration = Important. The rest? Don’t worry unless your job is to be in the saddle.

  4. Andrew

    I also tried Osmo over three days of riding this last week and had a similar experience. Most notably, while pushing a big gear at the end of a hot day three, my legs felt supple instead of twinging with cramps. The taste is very mild. Unlike other drinks, I was able to use it in both bottles as I didn’t feel the need to chase with water.

    Hopefully they’ll come out with a “Turbo” version soon…

  5. Nick

    There’s some imaginary Californian Mason Dixon line across which Highway 1 shall not be called PCH. You sir, have crossed it. All further references to that beautiful noodle of coastal pavement shall henceforth be referred to as Highway 1 or Hwy 1 (for brevity). 🙂

    1. Author

      WV Cycling: Among ultra-endurance cyclists there’s a phenomenon known as “belly ball.” Their needs for hydration are so great and the span of time they are on the bike is so great that small problems in hydration get magnified once you’re into the second, third etc. days. The issue is gastric emptying. One of the things that Sims addresses in the video for Active is how (allegedly) it is formulated with the perfect balance of sugars and electrolytes for the fastest possible gastric emptying. Osmo’s name comes from that property: Osmolality. My experience is that following a slow start to hydrating early in the day, because it was cold, I was playing catchup later on and I never got belly slosh (another technical term) because I was drinking faster than my system could absorb the fluid.

      Nick: Ha! So true, so true.

  6. Pingback: Osmo Nutrition : Red Kite Prayer

  7. Rico

    Padraig — aha, well yes, you can get to Geyserville from Guerneville via SS road, but that’s another 20 miles from the top. So that’s a stout ride after already doing the coast loop, very nice. You really did get to see a lot of great country in a day.

    1. Author

      Picchio: Yeah, Nick was good, huh?

      Ricco: Hey, I’m still just scratching the surface, but I like all that I survey.

      Thomas: Like you I was wondering just how differentiated this could be from Lim’s Scratchlabs given how recently he and Sims parted ways, but the mix is just different enough that it better reflects Sims’ vision for what a drink mix ought to be. I haven’t tasted Scratchlabs yet, but I’ve been impressed by how light the taste of Osmo is.

  8. Thomas

    curious. I’m staring at a packet of Sketch nee SecretDrinkMix. I expected them to be fairly similar since Dr Lim worked with Dr Sims to develop his stuff. They are in fact very similar w.r.t. carbs, vitamins and sodium, but the Osmo stuff has approx. twice the K and Mg per serving. I’m assuming the sucrose/glucose ratio to be similar as well, but can’t confirm until I get my hands on a glucose sample.

  9. Thomas

    @padraig, I’m not sure if I’d call it Sim’s “vision” or just smart science/business savvy. Being a scientist myself, We tend not to divuldge *all* the details. I bet she simply didn’t share all she knew, or learned more in the process and tweaked. That’s what I’d do 😉 Either way, I like the Sketch stuff enough to pick up some Osmo. As for taste. I bet it’s close. Both use fruit powder and Sketch is light as well. Now to figure out the sugar ratio so I can make my own!

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